In the Valley, cities may run out of water by spring
ROD SANTA ANA/Texas AgriLife Extension Service
Grain sorghum under irrigation in Hidalgo County. Most all crops in the Lower Rio Grande Valley are dependent upon irrigation water, according to Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service experts.
COLLEGE STATION -- In the Lower Rio Grande Valley, water shortages are shaping up as a crisis not just for farmers but also for entire cities this year, said a Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service expert.
In 2009, the area experienced the worst drought in decades, as did much of the state, but this year is shaping up to be much worse for area residents, said Dr. Guy Fipps, AgriLife Extension irrigation engineer, College Station.
“In 2009, there was a drought, but there was plenty of water in the reservoir systems, so there was irrigation water,” he said. “This year, there is almost no water in the reservoir systems.”
The Lower Rio Grande Valley, commonly referred to as just “the Valley,” encompasses the southernmost tip of South Texas. More than 1 million people live in the Valley, according to AgriLife Extension sources. There are row crops commonly grown, such as cotton, sugarcane, grain sorghum, and corn, as well as large acreages of commercial vegetable crops such as onions, spinach, potatoes, and many others, as well as citrus.
All crops and municipal areas are highly dependent upon water from the Rio Grande, Fipps said. There are a few wells, but they tend to be very salty.
“Most of the irrigation districts have informed the farmers that they will have one or two irrigations this year,” he said. “Three of the districts have informed their municipal water contracts that they will likely be out of water by April or May and will not be able to supply municipal water. This is quite serious.”
There are also international political issues involved, as by treaty Mexico and the United States share the water of the Rio Grande.
“The U.S. side is putting pressure on Mexico to get them to release some of the water they owe the United States so it can be used to maintain municipal water supplies this year,” Fipps said. “So it should be very interesting to see how this unfolds in the next two or three months.”
Fipps’ work in the area has concentrated in recent years to modernize canals to conserve water, he said.
“Conveyance efficiencies vary from as much as 90 percent in one of the smaller irrigation districts, to as low as 60 percent in many of the larger ones,” he said. “That means you have anywhere from 10 to 40 percent of the water lost before it reaches the fields.”
AgriLife Extension district reporters compiled the following summaries for the week of March 4-11:
AgriLife Extension district reporters for the Southwest District, including Wilson, Gonzales, Guadalupe, and Bexar counties, reported the region remained dry with little to no rain received. The drought persisted. Livestock producers continued providing supplemental feed for livestock.
AgriLife Extension district reporters for the Coastal Bend District, including Karnes County, reported the eastern part of the region received light rain, but western counties remained extremely dry. High winds and poor soil moisture made it hard to prepare fields for spring planting. Trees were dying in some areas, and then breaking apart due to high winds. Livestock producers continued providing supplemental feed for livestock and further culling herds.
AgriLife Extension district reporters for the South District, including Atascosa County, reported soil-moisture levels ranged from 80 to 100 percent short in the northern parts of the region, and 60 to 100 percent very short in the eastern, western, and southern parts of the region. High winds, warm temperatures, and low humidity continued to dry topsoils. The drought continued to stress native grasses throughout the entire region. In Atascosa County, producers held off on planting some of their crops because of dry conditions.
Robert Burns has nearly 30 years’ experience writing about agriculture and agricultural-related research. He writes about Texas AgriLife Research and Texas AgriLife Extension Service activities at the Overton Center and centers in Stephenville and Temple.